by Aqib Nazir
SRINAGAR: Commuters who would travel by rail between north and south Kashmir have urged the government to resume the services as it is impacted their livelihood. The service was closed in August 2019.
The back-to-back lockdowns witnessed by Kashmir resulted in the suspension of the train services on 159 km Banihal-Baramulla railway line.
Apart from the suffering of daily commuters, the train service before the lockdown was a source of earning for hundreds of families, but the suspension left them in financial crises.
“When the train was launched in Kashmir, I started selling Chestnuts (Gaer Goo’ji) in train. Alhamdulillah, I was earning handsomely, even with that earning, I managed to marry three daughters,” said Ghulam Mohammad Dar, a resident of Pattan village. Dar further said that now he is hardly earning to survive the routine life. “I’m suffering financially, two daughters, who are still not yet married.”
Though under Unlock 5, the government lifted the ban on everything from roadways to airports, the Kashmir rail remains as an exception.
“It was easy for me to go to the office via train from Anantnag to Baramulla, since the train is not running on the track, I’m travelling on my personal vehicle, which costs me 30 times more, than what I was paying for railway ticket,” said Aafaq Kirmani, a government employee, who hails from Dooru, Anantnag. “One fails to understand if the services were resumed in other parts of the country, then what bother authorities here to not resume the train services, leaving hundreds of commuters high and dry.”
Another resident from Baramulla district, Muzamil Wasil who is an employee at the Tourism department said, “It’s very difficult to travel in public transport as its time consuming, and I’m not able to reach office on time.”
When contacted, Northern Railway authorities refused to comment on the issue and said that they are not authorized to talk on this.
However, a senior railway official said that since the train services were suspended on March 20, last year, only a four-day special run of Vistadome coach was conducted for shooting a documentary. Adding that the snapping of services caused huge losses.
“In Kashmir, railways generate near about Rs 10 crore earnings annually, but the expenditure for the same period is more than Rs 75 crore. And due to this loss from last one year the income further declines,” said an official wishing anonymity.
Apart from these losses, according to the official, the railway department has to pay salaries to at least one thousand employees, with none of them carrying home less than Rs 35,000, a month. “The salary of these 1000 youth has out an extra three crore burden on our department,” the official said.